Dhokaima: In the gate of good food
Dhokaima has the finest carrot cake and some great food before you come to this light, fantastic creation,” said Tapan Bose who works down the road from Dhokaima and uses the restaurant as his local watering hole. “We called it Dhokaima, because it’s almost in the Patan Dhoka,” said Kanak Mani Dixit, who with Kunda Dixit and a Sleeping Partner, own the restaurant.
“The Dhokaima Café building dates back to the 1920’s, when it was used as a store and outhouse to a Rana palace. The interior is designed by architect Siddhartha Gopalan to reflect the first two decades of the 20th century. The elements include the use of steel I-beams in both structure and motifs, light shades from the era, and rolled tin sheets in the bakery counter and light fixtures. The paintings of deities by Raja Ram Varma from Kerala are from the same period,” says the menu of Dhokaima which is in handmade board and metal and is printed on a century old ‘treadle press.’ Tapan Bose whose organisation believes in bringing South Asia closer together, is a globetrotter who loves food and is a gourmand who has eaten all over the world, and was kind enough to help me with Dhokaima’s extraordinary menu. There are two soups in Dhokaima that range from good to brilliant.
Chef Buddha Lama, who trained under a Mainland Chinese Chef for several years, makes an incredible hot and sour soup that has Sichuan spiced oil in it and is finished with egg flakes. The way Buddha makes it you taste the sour and the hot separately and sometimes they mix in your mouth. But taste-blowing is the Chinese Seaweed soup that has memorable tastes mixed, and not one of them is even slightly fishy. “The soup has become a habit with me,” said Tapan. He recalled another habit in France. It was a lamb with liquorice and clovers which he claimed was, as great in its own way, as Dhokaima’s, Chicken Fricassee which is cubes of boneless chicken cooked in red wine with mushrooms and shallots. This is the second of three ways of cooking a Chicken Fricassee which is basically a simmered dish. Chef Ram Kazi who trained under a French maestro called Yves, makes the Fricassee uniquely Dhokaima by adding bacon that accents the wine and osmoses into the chicken. You end up being politically incorrect by mopping up the gravy with garlic bread. Really fabulous but simple is the Spaghetti Sauce at Dhokaima which has fried garlic and parsley swirled in slightly warm olive oil and poured over the pasta: it keeps vampires away. Tapan recommended Chef Buddha’s special diced chicken cooked with red chillies and peanuts in a slight gravy. Sichuan food tastes from mild to mouthburning hot. It also balances the textures, so you get the chewiness of chicken, the crispness of peanuts and the firmness of red chilies all in one gorgeous serving. The chicken was covered with spices and instantly cooked in burning fat. The result was a coating that had you guessing even as you made mental notes to congratulate Chef Buddha and his Chinese mentor.
Since this was Tapan’s local he ordered the exotic fried cucumber with dried chilli in a touch of spicy sauce, and the brilliant, unforgettable and quite unusual, French beans cooked with Sesame Seeds. Two things happened in the cooking the beans; first they tasted of Sesame and second you had pickle or achar like clusters of Sesame that was as out of the world as I was as I gorged myself. Dhokaima has a hot sauce for its vegetable and chicken momo’s which a regular customer said should be accompanied by a sweetish Thai sauce. The momo’s which were delicious, went down wonderfully as we plunged them into both sauces. A quick aside: Dhokaima is only restaurant I know that does a local Mashyaura Chilli, a reconstituted soyabean in sweet chilli sauce. The manager of the restaurant, Gopal Nepal said it was family recipe and I demanded to be adopted at once.
There are paintings all over Dhokaima and they are by Kripa Joshi. One is called Family and it has the most comfortable sofa with colorful cushions, another has yet another comfy sofa, both are descended from Liechtenstein and Warhol. They dominate the room and have me wishing I could sink into them. Kunda Dixit who joined us said under his hat, “They ought to call it Sofaima” ... and Kanak insisted that we looked at the loos he had designed, which had toilet paper cascading from ceiling holders like manna from heaven ... As someone said, like all great treasures, once discovered, Dhokaima, has you coming back for a little bit more all the time, Like Tapan Bose. And now me. For things Dhokaima call Gopal Nepal or the ever obliging Dhana Gole, who ran marathons to serve us, at: 5522113.